After Trump received a 37-count indictment from the US Department of Justice on Thursday, June 8, reactions ran the full spectrum. But calls to extremist action have been part of Trumpism from the start.

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So we had the weekend to process the extraordinary news: an indictment with 37 felony charges laid by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) against Former President Donald Trump, in relation to the 102 classified documents recovered by federal agents from his Florida resort last August. (Some papers wrongly counted 38 charges: the last is a standalone count for false statements by Trump aide and US Navy veteran Walt Nauta, co-accused in five other charges.) Thirty-one of those counts were filed under the Espionage Act, for willful retention of national defense information. The rest relate to conspiracy to conceal and withhold said documents, and other false statements pursuant to the matter.

We had time to boggle at the image of top-secret documents allegedly stacked in a bathroom. We added this tally of charges to the 34 felony counts leveled in April by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, of falsifying financial documents in relation to hush money for a porn star ahead of the 2016 presidential election. We read transcripts suggesting that Trump boasted about sharing confidential Department of Defense documents with uncleared visitors, and how aides were aware of the boxes while helping to reorganize them around the compound.

Transcript of Trump allegedly showing a "highly confidential" document from the Defense Department to visitors.
From page 15 of the “Trump Indictment”, made available by Robert Parloff.

But the biggest concern lay with reactions from members of the Republican Party, which varied widely. Utah Senator Mitt Romney offered the clearest support of due process, in a statement that also said, “Mr. Trump brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so.” Trump’s own former attorney general, Bill Barr, told Fox News Sunday that he “was shocked by the degree of sensitivity of these documents” and that “if even half of it is true, then he’s toast.”

Others were quick to spin the indictment, advanced by Special Counsel Jack Smith, as overreach from Attorney General Merrick Garland and sitting president Joe Biden. GOP senators speaking to The Hill called this indictment a huge conflict of interest within an active presidential election cycle, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz claimed it would do “enormous damage to the rule of law.” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley went one further, claiming that “if the president in power can just jail his political opponents, which is what Joe Biden is trying to do tonight, we don’t have a republic anymore, we don’t have a rule of law, we don’t have the Constitution.”

Some also viewed the indictment as a galvanizing force in the upcoming election, based on the uptick in support Trump received after his April indictment. This is also why PBS could reasonably ask a question that in another era might have seemed inconceivable: “Will Trump’s legal issues hurt his standing with Republican voters?”

While Trump may now be undergoing due process for alleged intel breaches, the whole political culture critical to his uplift and current cult of personality is one that the DOJ cannot prosecute.

On social media, Republicans also went to more extreme language, with Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs claiming that we have “now reached a war phase” and citing “an eye for an eye”, while Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins called for Trump supporters to “buckle up” and “1/50K know your bridges” (a reference to military-scale maps) ahead of Trump’s court appearance on Tuesday, June 13. Though Higgins later tweeted to let Trump handle this, his highly platformed comment came amid a flurry of online activity offering radical solutions to the indictment.

On Friday, at a Georgia Republican Party convention, Arizona Republican Kari Lake suggested a mass mobilization, stating:

I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland, and Jack Smith, and Joe Biden, and the guys back there in the fake news media—you should listen up as well: this one’s for you. If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you … most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.

Trump himself, on Truth Social, addressed his supporters with a call to action: “SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” At the Georgia convention on Saturday, he claimed that the indictment was a joke perpetuated by a Democratic Party afraid of him. He further stated that “[t]hese people don’t stop and they’re bad and we have to get rid of them. These criminals cannot be rewarded. They must be defeated.”

Online, supporters called for major protests on Tuesday. As Vice reported, The Donald, a message board used by some Trump supporters in plans pursuant to the Capitol riot, was predictably busy with calls to stock up on arms and take action, along with explicit threats against Garland and his children. The Florida Republican Assembly (a Christian conservative group) chartered four buses for Trump supporters on the “America First Freedom Road Trip”. Far-right activist Laura Loomer made her own call for a “peaceful rally” against the “weaponization of government”, which a local Proud Boys chapter then circulated.

In other words, after the indictment, the US now finds itself in the middle of a protracted, ugly political spectacle.

And while Trump may now be undergoing due process for alleged intel breaches that could have gravely compromised US intelligence officers and international knowledge about US nuclear and military capacities, the whole political culture critical to his uplift and current cult of personality is one that the DOJ cannot prosecute. Even all the convictions to date around the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol have not yet proven sufficient deterrent against mounting right-wing extremism.

So what is the path to justice in a society with so deep an ideological rift?

The ‘intellectual’ case for electing Trump

If any solution is going to present itself, it’s going to start with a deeper history of the problem. Amid the current legal spectacle, it will be easy to focus on the transgressions of just one man, and forget the broader issues that allowed US political culture to decline so much in the first place. But if ever the US is going to remedy its current crisis of authority, it needs to remember the fuller store of culpability behind all the misdeeds of any given individual boosted to higher office.

READ: What fifty years of struggle can teach us, going forward

Even if we concentrate solely on the era of Trumpism, a wide range of systemic issues reveal themselves. Trump did not emerge from the ether. Rather, he rose to and sustained power with a wide array of assistance, including from controversial family fortune; from the template set by mentor and political fixer Roy Cohn; with the help of lawyer Michael Cohen (who aided in the aforementioned hush money scandal); through QAnon and other extreme disinformation amplified by popular advisors like Michael Flynn; and with Steve Bannon’s work, both in cultivating alt-right media platforms and also some of Trump’s most drastic policies in office.

The above is not even close to a complete list of contributing factors, but while it includes many sensational figures who assisted in Trump’s rise, one cause for today’s political disarray lies dangerously in the backdrop of related discourse. This would be the “moderates” who ushered Trump into office: the conservatives who held their noses at Trump’s outrageous behaviour to secure more GOP wins.

In 2016, the Claremont Review of Books published an infamous essay by Publius Decius Mus, the pseudonym of Michael Anton, who served on the National Security Council under Trump, as a speech writer for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and as a director for Citigroup and BlackRock.

“The Flight 93 Election” was published in September 2016, and offered the “Never Trump”-ers a more intellectual appeal to endorse Trump in the November election. It used the framing metaphor of Flight 93 (the fourth hijacked plane on 9/11, which unarmed passengers diverted from its primary suicide mission) to describe a make-or-break moment for US conservatism. Aspects of that metaphor, especially the idea of “landing the plane”, persisted in rhetoric throughout the Trump presidency.

Anton’s argument was that conservatives had grown too complacent, and allowed a leftist “junta” to make far too many cultural advances in recent years. It was incoherent to argue that the left was ruining the US, he claimed, and not accept the need to do something drastic to change course.

Of course, the complicating factor in the use of Flight 93 as a metaphor is that the plane still crashed, and all aboard died. Anton was essentially calling on “Never Trump” Republicans to make the extreme sacrifice of allowing a figure who “departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting” to win office and regain cultural authority. The GOP’s reputation might falter for the association, but if that’s what it took to get the job done, it would be a worthwhile sacrifice. As Anton noted,

Yes, Trump is worse than imperfect. So what? We can lament until we choke the lack of a great statesman to address the fundamental issues of our time—or, more importantly, to connect them. Since Pat Buchanan’s three failures, occasionally a candidate arose who saw one piece: Dick Gephardt on trade, Ron Paul on war, Tom Tancredo on immigration. Yet, among recent political figures—great statesmen, dangerous demagogues, and mewling gnats alike—only Trump-the-alleged-buffoon not merely saw all three and their essential connectivity, but was able to win on them. The alleged buffoon is thus more prudent—more practically wise—than all of our wise-and-good who so bitterly oppose him. This should embarrass them. That their failures instead embolden them is only further proof of their foolishness and hubris.

Anton didn’t try to hide the right wing agenda, either:

The answer to the subsidiary question—will it work?—is much less clear. By “it” I mean Trumpism, broadly defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy. We Americans have chosen, in our foolishness, to disunite the country through stupid immigration, economic, and foreign policies. The level of unity America enjoyed before the bipartisan junta took over can never be restored.

But we can probably do better than we are doing now. First, stop digging. No more importing poverty, crime, and alien cultures. We have made institutions, by leftist design, not merely abysmal at assimilation but abhorrent of the concept. We should try to fix that, but given the Left’s iron grip on every school and cultural center, that’s like trying to bring democracy to Russia. A worthy goal, perhaps, but temper your hopes—and don’t invest time and resources unrealistically.

By contrast, simply building a wall and enforcing immigration law will help enormously, by cutting off the flood of newcomers that perpetuates ethnic separatism and by incentivizing the English language and American norms in the workplace. These policies will have the added benefit of aligning the economic interests of, and (we may hope) fostering solidarity among, the working, lower middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities. The same can be said for Trumpian trade policies and anti-globalization instincts. Who cares if productivity numbers tick down, or if our already somnambulant GDP sinks a bit further into its pillow? Nearly all the gains of the last 20 years have accrued to the junta anyway. It would, at this point, be better for the nation to divide up more equitably a slightly smaller pie than to add one extra slice—only to ensure that it and eight of the other nine go first to the government and its rentiers, and the rest to the same four industries and 200 families.

In the coming weeks and months, it will be easy to fixate on the spectacle of these latest charges against Trump. Among so many recent calls to extreme action among far right politicans, too, it is highly sensible for average citizens to be concerned about impending violence, and the state of their democracy.

But Trump was always a tool. He did not rise to power on his own. He did not escape consequences for his actions for years on his own, either.

Rather, the triumph of Trumpism served a very explicit set of conservative interests that have consistently leaned toward ethnic purity, nationalist insularity, and the enforcement of right wing Christian values in homes, schools, and US society.

Are these values shared by most people in the US? Absolutely not.

But how this multicultural society is going to reckon with so strongly mobilized, platformed, and emboldened a minority is now a huge and pressing issue. With so many still rallying around the idea of Trumpism propped up by “moderate” conservatives, far right activists, and average civilians alike, the path to a better union in this deeply divided country remains an open question.

May we at least remember the scale of the problem in these spectacle-ridden days.

GLOBAL HUMANIST SHOPTALK M L Clark is a Canadian writer by birth, now based in Medellín, Colombia, who publishes speculative fiction and humanist essays with a focus on imagining a more just world.

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